Quality Public services are essential to fighting reactionary politics

On World Public Services Day, it's our duty to reiterate that public services are the backbone of our societies. They build social cohesion and solidarity, and when they are adequately funded and prioritized, people have faith in the institutions of government.

But across the world, this faith is being undermined. Workers know the economy isn’t working for them. Corporate interests have captured government policy so they can get away with profiteering, privatisation, precarious work, tax dodging and corrupt practices, all at the expense of our frontline services.

This creates justifiable anger - which must not be ignored or dismissed. It is up to our union movement to channel this anger into collective action that builds decent work and stronger public services which people can believe in and will defend.

The risk of inaction is too strong to ignore. Around the world the forces of the far right are rising, fueled by economic insecurity and frustration. People face year long medical waitlists, overflowing classrooms or crumbling roads; instead of demanding better services they are told to blame the poor, blame migrants, blame welfare and blame the government.

The voice of public service workers is vital in challenging these narratives. When parents hear how teachers are forced to buy classroom supplies out of pocket, they demand more funding for schools. When nurses discuss how big-pharma prices prevent them from saving patient lives, support for public patents grows. As unions we must connect these local frontline stories with the policy changes needed to improve things.

That’s why we recently brought the voice of care workers to the highest levels of the International Labour Organisation: to build the case for care to be recognised as a public service. Basanti Maharjan, a Community Health Worker and union leader from Nepal, called on the assembled governments to “recognize our work and invest in care infrastructure. We face shortage of staff, lack of social and health security measures, and no or low remuneration. With the support of PSI we are fighting to change this. These services should be a public service.”

Thanks to testimonies like hers, we convinced the ILO to acknowledge the primary responsibility of states in delivering care and recognize that the work of carers is not a commodity.

Across the world public service workers like Maharjan are standing up for public services and showing there is an alternative to division and fear. In Argentina, workers led a national strike that saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets to challenge the extremist policies of President Milei's who seeks to cut frontline services and wages and promote privatisation. In Kenya, doctors from KMPDU braved police violence to stand up for a better healthcare system for all Kenyans. And at EPSU’s congress we saw how workers and unions across Europe are pushing governments and EU institutions to ditch the neoliberal policies which have damaged frontline services and helped the far-right gain ground.

By linking these struggles we can challenge forces that might look local or unique to our national circumstances– but are actually global and structural. By making the voice of public service workers heard, we can capture the public imagination, challenge negative narratives and build our collective strength. Public services are our antidote to hate and division.